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Oh where have you been, my blue eyed son?

Kyrgyzstan, May 28, 2010

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Mary Tam/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Home for the next three months Photo: Mary Tam/Mercy Corps

Name that tune!

I’ve been in Kyrgyzstan a little over 24 hours and am trying to embrace the feelings of disorientation and disconnection that inevitably arise. Most of my friends know that I happen to be somewhat directionally impaired, which doesn’t help in these sorts of situations. So far, everyone here has been extremely helpful in getting me settled. I also happened to meet some pretty interesting folks en route on the plane.

I met a nice couple from Scotland. I was trying to familiarize myself with Russian using an outdated self-study book and asked if they, by chance, spoke Russian. The husband laughed and said, “I can barely speak English!” I was surprised that they had not heard of Mercy Corps since we have an office in Edinburgh. Then again, most people in the U.S. have yet to find out about Mercy Corps’ work, despite our Global Headquarters in Portland, Oregon.

I met a chemist from Kazakhstan. We got on the subject of international aid and he began to talk about the difference between healthy and cancerous cells. Healthy cells produce what is needed not only for themselves, but for the greater organism. Cancer cells simply consume and replicate, reflecting similar behavior to corrupt systems. I am still mulling over how these ideas relate to the structure and effectiveness of development work.

I met an Aussie who works in a gold mine in Kyrgyzstan. He works one month at a time, then flies back home to Australia for a month to be with his family. I admitted that, in my head, I was envisioning people using hand-held sifters to find little nuggets, and asked him to explain how the process of gold mining works these days. Apparently it involves a lot of crushing and chemicals. He wasn’t sure where the gold actually went after being turned into bars.

It made me think of my role at Mercy Corps and how I am part of a process that gathers resources and delivers them to distant places. I am so excited to be here and to finally have the chance to see first-hand where our “gold” is going.

As any good fundraiser does, I have a polished elevator speech that I use to explain our work and am eager to put it to the test. How will my preconceptions about our work hold up? What are the challenges and benefits I am unfamiliar with? What do our local staff and beneficiaries have to say about Kompanion and Mercy Corps?

So what’ll I do now? As the lyrics go in the song that I mentioned in the title of this post, I hope to see what it’s like “where the people are many and their hands are all empty...where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten”...or are they?

But first things first. I need to familiarize myself with the unsigned streets of Bishkek....